Attention Problems (page 2)
Coming to Attention
Coming to attention involves being ready to attend to any communication in the classroom. The importance of this characteristic in the learning process cannot be overstated. If children do not orient their attention to important communications and task instructions from teachers, over time this will greatly affect what they know and what they can do. As illustrated in the case example at the beginning of this chapter, children who are vulnerable are at risk for having difficulty in this area due to many factors. Specifically, whether children are able to quickly and successfully come to attention is greatly influenced by factors such as their
- Physical well-being (tired, hungry)
- Ability to understand directions
- Classroom environment including the
- Noise level
- Seating arrangements
- Number of children
Teachers need to understand both the importance of securing attention and the difficulty many children will have trying to come to attention.
Selective attention involves the ability to direct attention to specific information in the environment (after coming to attention). To be successful in a class activity or during a transition, children need to selectively attend to what they are supposed to do. Sometimes, task instructions appear to be clearly provided for most children and they get started on their work without problems, whereas children who did not attend to all or part of the instructions are typically lost.
In the early primary grades, children are required to selectively attend to large amounts of verbal information as they cannot be expected to process significant amounts of written material. If children are not able to direct their attention to teachers’ oral communications or to visual cues that help illustrate routines, tasks, or directions, then they will be at a great disadvantage. Further, without specific direction, children may not use the existing cues in the environment to help guide their attention. For example, a teacher could have components of the current activity illustrated with words or pictures on a large whiteboard, which are to be spontaneously followed by children; however, children with selective attention problems will need to be told explicitly to look at the board and use the information to direct their attention.
As children get older, they need to be able to direct more attention to written forms. When children are required to read instructions, children with limited English proficiency and those who are behind in reading will have problems getting started because they may not know what to do.
For many children who are vulnerable, sustaining their attention in academic tasks is a significant problem. Sustaining attention to one task may be particularly difficult if the task is boring. For other children, sustained-attention problems may be due to
- The difficulty level of the task (too easy or difficult)
- Interest in the content
- The way the information is communicated to them (oral instructions, multiple steps)
- The requirements of the task (writing, oral retelling)
- The time of day (later in the day is more difficult)
Often problems sustaining attention are due to a poor match between children’s characteristics and certain classroom settings. For example, if the task is language based and long, then children who have limited English proficiency may have great difficulty staying on task. If the task is a rote one and involves attention to detail and repetitive steps, then children with ADHD will probably have difficulty staying on task. If children with challenging behavior do not like a specific content area or activity, then they may have trouble staying on task. Children may also have difficulty staying interested in a task due to fatigue, hunger, anxiety about family issues, and/or other factors in their school environment. Classroom activities typically require all three types of attention—coming to attention, selective attention, and sustained attention—to some degree.
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